Giving a name to your emotion can help you control how you feel.

understandingsign2011Sometimes you can feel such a mixture of physical and mental hurt that it can be overwhelming.  Finding a way out, or a way to control how you feel can be difficult, and imagining that you can feel differently, impossible.

This is where labelling your emotion can help, by helping you understand how you feel and therefore helping you to take control.

Research studies asked participants to give a label to their emotion such as “anger” or “fear”.  They found that labelling led to less activity in the part of our brain which controls our fight-or-flight response (the amygdala) and increased activity in the thinking part of the brain.

So what does that mean? The psychologists suggest that labelling takes us from an emotional state to a thinking state – “you seem to be putting the brakes on your emotional responses”. This allows us to act less impulsively and to take control of our feelings.

So, how to name our emotions?

  • If you are struggling to label how you feel, there is a great tool called the Wheel of Emotion. Start in the middle of the wheel, and pick the label that best fits how to feel and work outwards through the spokes and stop when the label makes the most sense of how you feel.
  • Then say that word, to yourself or out loud.
  • The feeling won’t disappear but nor will it overwhelm you.  You now know what you are feeling – accept this feeling and don’t judge yourself.
  • With this new understanding you can start to work out more rationally what you need to do to manage that feeling. For example, if you learn that you are feeling angry, perhaps you need to go out for a walk, talk to a friend or speak to your partner about the issue which is troubling you.

Labelling and accepting how you feel will help you manage distress in the future.


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